Update given on buildings at Belmont-Narragansett





by KEVIN GROSS

About 35 residents were given an update on plans to redevelop vacant buildings at the northeast and southeast corners of Belmont and Narragansett avenues at a meeting held on Jan. 16, at the West Belmont Library, 3104 N. Narragansett Ave.

Alderman Gilbert Villegas (36th) organized the meeting with Akton Realty president Charles Markopoulos, the company that owns the former Peter Pan restaurant at 6360 W. Belmont Ave. and nearby buildings. Villegas said that representatives of Baum Realty, the owners of the former CVS Pharmacy at 6355 W. Belmont Ave., were invited to the meeting but declined to attend.

Markopoulos said that new plans for the former restaurant site call for a mix of retail and residential units. The former restaurant would be reused, gutted and rehabilitated into about 7,500 square feet of retail space with rear parking spaces.

"I was talking to the alderman and said ‘Lets not demolish the corner. If I can remodel the building I can lease the properties in the high teens (in rent per square foot), rather than the high 20’s,’" Markopoulos said. "That’s more manageable to a lot of retailers."

Vacant buildings by the vacant restaurant would be demolished and replaced with five three-flats with rear garages, designed similarly to most of the nearby housing along Belmont Avenue.

Previous plans discussed at a meeting in October of 2016 called for about 48 units of upscale rental properties in five-story apartments featuring amenities such as elevators and indoor underground parking. Ground was never broken since funding was never secured for the project, Markopoulos said.

"The downscaling was, indeed, concerning to hear about," Villegas said. "The community has asked for an update, so I thought it’s the right thing to do to have Charles come back and give an update, whatever the update is, whether positive or negative."

"Development, as you may understand, is very dire at this point," Markopoulos said. "We’ve been to a number of the big banks, Wells Fargo, Chase. Then we deviated a bit because a lot of the big banks are hesitant to give loans for new construction. So we decided to go to hedge funds, the wealthy individuals with the big pockets. We found out those boys want a lot of money in return, and they’d say ‘a million dollars of profit, that’s not enough for us.’"

Markopoulos said that current plans still face hurdles in financing due to need for additional retailers.

"To finance a retail project today, you need 75 to 80 percent (of space) filled with pre-leased tenants signed and committed," Markopoulos said. "We have about 40 percent of tenants committed. We need another 40 percent. It could take another 60 days, it could be 6 months."

Villegas said that the situation across the street at the CVS is also in limbo.

"CVS is continuing to pay rent on that building. And so if I’m the owner of the property, and I’m still getting my monthly rent, I’m not really in a hurry to develop that," Villegas said. "I’m talking to the mayor’s planning department in order to push Baum (to sublease). But I would love to see if you (audience members) could help call Baum and ask ‘What are you doing for the corner of Belmont and Narragansett, and what are you doing to help market this?’"

Villegas described other methods he has utilized to recruit businesses into the ward.

"I’ve sent out 400 letters to businesses that are east of Western Avenue, trying to recruit them to either open up a second location or to take a look at us," Villegas said. "I’ve got a couple of takers already, there’s a tapas place that will be coming on Belmont by Melvina they’re currently going through the Zoning Board of Approvals to get some approval."

Villegas said he has also met with members of various groups and chambers of commerce to try and attract development or investment to the area, and emphasized that residents could potentially help the situation.

"As I take my child to school I drive by Belmont every day. I hate that corner, it’s been like that for a long time," Villegas said. "So if you have any connections, know any owners of restaurants looking to develop over here, I’d be more than happy to meet with them."

One resident asked if financing is not secured for the former restaurant, "what will happen to the parcel?"

"It’s going to remain vacant for the foreseeable future. Nothing anybody can do unless you get retail and some tenants," Markopoulos said. "If anyone’s got the interest in starting a franchise, now’s the time."